Virginia Organizing hosted a Restoration Celebration on June 29 at Calvary Baptist church in Danville with the Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson as special guest.
Lily Hungarland, leader and board member of the Danville Chapter of Virginia Organizing, told attendees that the organization began focusing on restoration of rights for felons as early as 1999. In 2014, the organization worked to convince Danville City Council to vote to ban the felony box on job applications.
Event organizer Barry Mayo, case manager for Southwest Cares, said he wants to help returning citizens become productive citizens.
Thomasson explained the governor’s recent order regarding restoration of rights and provided information to returning citizens on qualifications for restoration.
On April 22, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order restoring civil rights to more than 200,000 former felons.
“No one should have to serve their time and then struggle in society just to be accepted as a human being,” said Virginia Organizing leader and returning citizen Marty Jackson. “Having your rights back makes you feel certain there will be other opportunities ahead of you. It motivated me to look forward to the future. Now I don’t feel like a returning citizen, I feel like a true citizen. I’m grateful that Governor Terry McAuliffe did this so that men and women who are returning back into society can feel more capable of being a part of their communities.”
Jackson, who his rights back four years ago, has enjoyed being able to vote in elections during the last four years.
“I had to make a conscious decision to do everything I could to get back my rights,” he said. It mattered to me that not only that I could get a job, but I also wanted to vote.”
He urged felons to take advantage of the opportunity to vote.
Thomasson said felons could check with Virginia Organizing or with Community Action Agency to see if they are on the list of restorations. If they are off probation, then their rights should automatically be restored, whether they have paid their fines or not, she said.
She also said that once a person’s rights are restored by the governor they can’t be taken away by a future governor.
However, restoration of rights does not remove a conviction from a person’s record.
According to Thomasson, a felon doesn’t have to do anything to have his or her rights restored, once they have finished probation.
“But if you want to vote, you have to register,” she said, “also, if you want to be a notary public, run for office, or serve on a jury.”
“Governor McAuliffe believes that if we are going to build a stronger and more equal Virginia, we must break down barriers to participation in civic life for people who return to society seeking a second chance,” said Thomasson.
Doug Morrison, chief of Probation and Parole for Danville and Pittsylvania County, said, “The measure of a man’s greatness isn’t what happened in the past; the measure is what happens from today forward. Get up and get going, don’t let the past hold you back. We’re (probation and parole officers) trying to work ourselves out of a job.”